Commonplace Book

The "Commonplace Book" was a collection of quotes we shared in the early 2000s. 

Ms. Coulter pauses to reflect on the whining of those on the blacklist, all of whom she mocks as prosperous exiles racing happily around Europe with rich friends and having a good time. In Ms. Coulter's version of this history, of course, the blacklisted are only the rich and resourceful--a history that doesn't include the countless people destroyed because their names had popped up on some list of alleged Communists or fellow travelers, or sounded like a name on one of those lists. People like the actor Phillip Loeb, for example, unemployable and ultimately driven to suicide because he could no longer pay the bills for the care of a mentally ill son.

-Dorothy Rabinowitz on Ann Coulter's Treason

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Our big, easygoing neighbor to the north has its problems—too cold, a weak dollar, a reputation for paralyzing dullness—but its people are reasonably free, and they seem, on the whole, quite nice. Their contributions to popular music (Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, The Band, the McGarrigle sisters, Leonard Cohen, Alanis Morissette...) are legion. Their anomalous gift for comedy (Martin Short, Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers, and Jim Carrey...) has made Ontario the Catskills of our time. By sending their soldiers to serve side by side with ours in Afghanistan, they supported us in our hour of need—the act of a true friend. By declining to participate in our Iraq adventure, they let us know that they sincerely thought we were making a mistake—also the act of a true friend. In matters of public policy they are often more enlightened than we are, without being snooty about it. Their health-care system is a mess, but it’s a fairer, more humane mess than ours is... They have a comparatively sensible approach to the drug problem: while our federal government tries strenuously to put marijuana smokers in jail, even (or especially) when the marijuana has been smoked for medical purposes in states whose people have voted to sanction such use, their federal government is about to decriminalize the possession of small amounts. And now—with a minimum of fuss, hardly any hysteria, and no rending of garments—they have made it legal for persons of the same gender to marry each other.

- Hendrick Herztberg, The New Yorker

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We have the worst President ever in the history of the United States of America. He’s a war criminal, for crying out loud. He is also responsible for the most idealistic, hypocritical, empty-headed, and incompetent administration in the history of this great country. He plans a war but never plans an occupation. He has to bribe Ethiopia and Eritrea to join the “Coalition of the Willing” – so he can claim he has international support. Now his administration is pushing Japan to remilitarize so he can have Japanese peace-keepers in Iraq, because, gosh, you know those American voters won’t stand to have a couple of hundred thousand American troops stationed in Iraq. And he’s deployed two thirds of the entire military oversees in Iraq and Afghanistan and now he’s threatening Iran. And wait a fucking minute, he wants Japan to have a standing army!

-LIBERAL ARTS MAFIA

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The idea that it doesn't matter whether we find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or not is to me one of the most dangerous notions that's been put out anywhere in my lifetime. Basically, what it's saying is that the ends justify the means. In this case, it's hard to argue with the ends. As chaotic as things are, no one can say Iraq isn't better off without this psychopath. But if Americans buy into that notion, what they're saying is it's OK to destroy democracy at home in order to export it overseas.

You cannot have a democracy if you have a government lying to you about the reasons that you're going to war. If we're signing off on that tacitly or explicitly, we're living in a very different country than we ever did before.

-Susan Tifft

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What I can't explain is the rage of the counter-revolutionaries to dismantle every last brick of the social contract. At this advanced age I simply have to accept the fact that the tension between haves and have-nots is built into human psychology and society itself -- it's ever with us. However, I'm just as puzzled as to why, with right-wing wrecking crews blasting away at social benefits once considered invulnerable, Democrats are fearful of being branded "class warriors" in a war the other side started and is determined to win. I don't get why conceding your opponent's premises and fighting on his turf isn't the sure-fire prescription for irrelevance and ultimately obsolescence. But I confess as well that I don't know how to resolve the social issues that have driven wedges into your ranks. And I don't know how to reconfigure democratic politics to fit into an age of soundbites and polling dominated by a media oligarchy whose corporate journalists are neutered and whose right-wing publicists have no shame.

- Bill Moyers

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Distraught soldiers were saying: ‘I ain’t prepared for this, I didn't come here to shoot civilians.’ The colonel countered that the Iraqis were using inhabitants to kill marines, that ‘soldiers were being disguised as civilians, and that ambulances were perpetrating terrorist attacks.’

I drove away a girl who had had her humerus pierced by a bullet. Enrico was holding her in his arms. In the rear, the girl’s father was protecting his young son, wounded in the torso and losing consciousness. The man spoke in gestures to the doctor at the back of the lines, pleading: “I don’t understand, I was walking and holding my children’s hands. Why didn’t you shoot in the air? Or at least shoot me?”

In Baghdad, McCoy sped up the march. He stopped taking the time to search houses one-by-one. He wanted to get to Paradise Place as soon as possible. The Marines were not firing on the thickening population. The course ended with Saddam’s statue being toppled. There were more journalists at the scene than Baghdadis. Its five million inhabitants stayed at home.

- Norman Madarasz

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Last November, according to the Post, “a new Pentagon research office began designing a global computer-surveillance system to give U.S. counterterrorism officials access to personal information in government and commercial databases around the world.” The director of this office, John H. Poindexter, had the weird, shocking authority to collect every electronic record about every American citizen – and, it seems, citizens of other nations, into a national database. Let us not forget: this is the same Admiral Poindexter who was convicted of crimes in the anti-constitutional Iran-Contra arms sales of the Reagan administration.

We are watching our civil rights vanish before our eyes, in the name of an impossible goal of “security.” Surely, Americans can learn to live with greater risk at home without redefining their nation into the imperial, and frightening, governor of the world. Yet at this moment, the accumulated power of the presidency looks monolithic, while the opposition absents itself from the fray. I live in hope that it is still possible to make the political process work for those of us who were in the majority in 2000, and a hair’s breadth away from it in 2002. America is riven by at least two (opposing) theories of power and governance: a doctrine of unilateral power, against a belief in shared sovereignty and multilateral alliances. These political ideas animate our people domestically as well as internationally, and neither side, however bitterly opposed to the other, can claim to love this nation more. No one of us is less a patriot than any other fellow citizen, though our differences be sharp and seem nearly insoluble.
- Katherine Mcnamara

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The Cuban revolution was born to be different. Assailed by the incessant hounding from the empire to the north, it survived as it could and not as it wished. The people, valiant and generous, sacrificed a great deal to stay on their feet in a world of rampant servility. But as year after year of trials buffeted the island, the revolution began to lose the spontaneity and freshness that marked its beginning. I say this with sadness. Cuba hurts.

My conscience clear, I will repeat what I have previously said both on and away from the island: I do not believe in, and have never believed in single-party democracy (including in the United States, where there is a single party disguised as two). Nor do I believe that the omnipotence of the state is a valid response to the omnipotence of the market.
- Eduardo Galeano

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What are the conservatives doing with all the money and power that used to belong to all of us? They are telling us to be absolutely terrified, and to run around in circles like chickens with their heads cut off. But they will save us. They are making us take off our shoes at airports. Can anybody here think of a more hilarious practical joke than that one?

And they have turned loose a myriad of our high-tech weapons, each one costing more than a hundred high schools, on a Third World country, in order to shock and awe human beings like us, like Adam and Eve, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.
- Kurt Vonnegut

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Orwell in 1948 understood that despite the Axis defeat, the will to fascism had not gone away, that far from having seen its day it had perhaps not yet even come into its own - the corruption of spirit, the irresistible human addiction to power were already long in place, all well-known aspects of the Third Reich and Stalin's USSR, even the British Labour party - like first drafts of a terrible future. What could prevent the same thing from happening to Britain and the United States? Moral superiority? Good intentions? Clean living?

What has steadily, insidiously improved since then, of course, making humanist arguments almost irrelevant, is the technology. We must not be too distracted by the clunkiness of the means of surveillance current in Winston Smith's era. In "our" 1984, after all, the integrated circuit chip was less than a decade old, and almost embarrassingly primitive next to the wonders of
computer technology circa 2003, most notably the internet, a development that promises social control on a scale those quaint old 20th-century tyrants with their goofy moustaches could only dream about.
- Thomas Pynchon, The Road to 1984

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So it was a bit depressing to see Democratic reaction to two recent GOP-driven news events: the musings of Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) on sexual desires both human and, oddly, canine; and the Republican Party's announcement that it will hold its New York convention as close to the anniversary of the September 11 attacks as it can get away with. That Democrats went into high dudgeon over the former but had almost nothing to say about the latter shows a party trapped in a cage built of its own timidity and lack of imagination -- a party that knows well how to address the particular concerns of its loyal constituencies but has little purchase on how to speak broadly to more general concerns.

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee made an announcement on April 21 that is in every way more offensive and shocking than any idiocy that tumbled out of Santorum's mouth. For the entire history of the two-party system in this country, the parties have had a gentlemen's agreement that the conventions will take place before Labor Day, with the real, head-to-head campaigning to commence thereafter. But as we know very well, we are no longer dealing with gentlemen. So now the Republicans announce that they are going to meet in New York City about three miles from Ground Zero as near to the anniversary of the tragedy as possible. And they in essence acknowledge, discreetly but quite openly, that the purpose is to squeeze as much political gain out of the attacks, and the national-security issue, as they can.

- Michael Tomasky from The American Prospect

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This is exactly the way the country was run in the 1980s. Remember that these are almost the same people as in the Reagan and the senior Bush Administrations. Right through the 1980s they carried out domestic policies that were harmful to the population and which, as we know from extensive polls, the people opposed. But they managed to maintain control by frightening the people. So the Nicaraguan Army was two days' march from Texas and about to conquer the United States, and the airbase in Granada was one from which the Russians would bomb us. It was one thing after another, every year, every one of them ludicrous. The Reagan Administration actually declared a national Emergency in 1985 because of the threat to the security of the United States posed by the Government of Nicaragua.

If somebody were watching this from Mars, they would not know whether to laugh or to cry.

They are doing exactly the same thing now, and will probably do something similar for the presidential campaign. There will have to be a new dragon to slay, because if the Administration lets domestic issues prevail, it is in deep trouble.
- NOAM CHOMSKY, from an interview in Z magazine

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There's a weird illogic about it, because the less important literary fiction gets to the culture, the harder those corporations who for whatever reason keep wanting to publish it, have to market it. So in order to keep it alive, you have to murder it to save it.

A book is also a product. At least the books that we're talking about... Even a book that's about living in a culture that relentlessly turns everything into a product is a product. There are not very complicated ironies built into that situation. But you know that happens maybe four or five times a year. There are these legions of very smart, nice, usually Seven Sisters-educated young publicists for all the different publishing houses whose entire job is networking and lunching and hanging out with the book reviewers and opinion makers again and again ... hoping the cultural and marketing motor will catch, which one out of 200 times it does.
-David Foster Wallace

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The war was a disastrous failure of the imagination and an almost deliberate refusal to envisage the inevitable consequences of words and acts...made possible above all by the corruption of language in politics and by some of the major newspapers.
-Karl Kraus (referring to WWI)

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"There is some kind of anger in the man, a hostility that sometimes seems barely under control—as if he were, in street parlance, being ‘dissed.’"
-Richard Reeves

"He has the unreflective person’s immunity from irony, that great killer of intellectual passion. Ask him to reconcile his line on Iraq with his line on North Korea and he just gets irritated."- Michael Kinsley.

"Mr. Bush’s greatest weakness is that too many people, at home and abroad, smell that he’s not really interested in repairing the world." - Thomas L. Friedman.

"A steady hand on the helm in high seas, a knowledge of where we must go and why, a resolve to achieve safe harbor. More and more this presidency is feeling like a gift." - Peggy Noonan.

"This is the worst president ever. He is the worst president in all of American history." -Helen Thomas

-From The Eighth Hundred Days: The Quiz, Paul Slansky (The New Yorker, April 14, 2003)

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...I was exhilarated by what some of my best and most liberal friends deplored as Mr. Moore’s abrasive antics. Why shouldn’t we have a mad dog barking on our side for a change? We’re subjected to the drums of war banging incessantly on CNN—and all the while, people’s pensions are being looted in broad daylight by a new gang of corporate malefactors with access to the corridors of power.

Media malaise has set in with a vengeance, and not only just for me. The endless media coverage of the war has lowered the Nielsen ratings on the Oscars and the NCAA basketball tournament. It has reduced attendance at the movies and on Broadway, and made people less eager to shop and travel. And one can see what McLuhan meant when he said that televised wars become fictions. Right now, Iraq looks more and more like a too-long movie with too many subplots.

Even Donald Rumsfeld seemed a little flustered by the media maelstrom, when he complained that reporters were asking him questions about events in Iraq that appeared on television long before they were reported to the Pentagon by the commanders on the ground. The new phenomenon of "embedded" journalists with their unpredictable mood swings would have delighted McLuhan as much as the acceleration of audience expectations, so that a week seems like a month and a month like a year. Even in McLuhan’s time, 20 years and more before the end of the last millennium, he observed: "Today each of us lives several hundred years in a decade."

- Andrew Sarris, The New York Observer, 4/7/03

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And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we're going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demand didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence.
- Martin Luther King, Jr., from "I've been to the Mountain Top"

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The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history. With a country so rich in natural resources, talent, and labor power, the system can afford to distribute just enough wealth to just enough people to limit discontent to a troublesome minority. It is a country so powerful, so big that it can afford to give freedom of dissent to the small number who is not pleased.

There is no system of control with more openings, apertures, leeways, flexibility, rewards for the chosen, winning tickets in lotteries. There is none that disperses it controls more completely through the voting system, the work situation, the church, the family, the school, the mass media—none more successful in mollifying opposition with reforms, isolating people from one another, creating patriotic loyalty.

One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the ninety-nine percent against one another: Small property owners against the propertyless, black against white, native-born against foreign-born, intellectuals and professionals against the uneducated and unskilled. These groups have resented one another and warred against one another with such vehemence and violence as to obscure their common position as sharers of leftovers in a very wealthy country.
- Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

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O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
- Mark Twain, "The War Prayer"

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From New World Order to No World Order, Mr. Bush is making the globe a more dangerous place, one where the United States will have to fight and fight again. Such is the irony of his isolationism. And at home in Fortress America, the frightened politicians increase the size of their bodyguards, the country’s wealth is drained trying to protect every airport, water reservoir and highway culvert, phones are tapped and every aspect of life is suddenly subject to "procedures." We have now reached the point where it is strictly forbidden to bring a family picnic to a Major League Baseball game.

Isolationism is just that: being isolated, cut off, marooned, restricted, narrowed down and regulated. In Fortress America, the watchword is keep out. Keep ’em all out, keep everything out; build up the walls and cower behind them. Looking out the window from the longest limousine in the motorcade may seem like freedom—but to the pedestrians out on the sidewalks being pushed away and patted down by security, it may begin to seem a little like life in Baghdad.
- Nicholas von Hoffman @ The New York Observer

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PATRIOT, n. One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.

PATRIOTISM, n. Combustible rubbish read to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name. In Dr. Johnson's famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first.
- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

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One of the most frequent comments I hear everywhere, right up there with "what’s for dinner" and "I want to be somebody" is "I don’t have time to read," which is essentially telling you, a lifelong writer, that your profession is below that of communal spritzers and flossing, and frequent social ass scratching. Everyone has to learn over and over that at best time is seized and then you flee.
- Jim Harrison

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I have no respect for writers. They never make money. They’re like poor people looking in the windows.
- NY Publicist Peggy Seigal, quoted in Toby Young's How to Lose Friends and Influence People

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The beauty of the Internet was that Chip could post whole cloth fabrications without troubling to even check his spelling. Reliability on the Web was 98% a function of how slick and cool your site looked. Although Chip personally wasn’t fluent in Web, he was an American under 40 and Americans under 40 were exquisite judges of what was slick and cool and what was not.
- Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections

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The main difference between America and Lithuania, as far as Chip could see, was that in America the wealthy few subdued the unwealthy many by means of mind-numbing and soul-killing entertainments and gadgetry and pharmaceuticals, whereas in Lithuania the powerful few subdued the unpowerful many by threatening violence…
- Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections

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There is nothing...that is not beautiful or that will last.
Joe Bolton"Tropical Paradise"

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The best thing for being sad...is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake listening to the disorder in your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.
- T.H. White, The Once and Future King

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The difference between Socrates and Jesus is that no one has ever been put to death in Socrates' name. And that is because Socrates' ideas were never made into law.
- E.L. Doctorow, The Book of Daniel

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The ones for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.
- Jack Kerouac, On The Road

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All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own fashion.
- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

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Buying is much more American than thinking and I'm as American as they come. In Europe and the Orient people like to trade—buy and sell, sell and buy—they're basically merchants. Americans are not so interested in selling—in fact, they'd rather throw out than sell. What they really like to do is buy—people, money, countries.
- Andy Warhol, THE Philosophy of Andy Warhol

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"You know it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch." "Yes." "It's sort of what we have instead of God."
- Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

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America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves.... It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters.
- Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

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There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
- William Shakespeare, Hamlet

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I do not like experts. They are our jailers. I despise experts more than anyone on earth...They solve nothing! They are servants of whatever system hires them. They perpetuate it. When we are tortured, we shall be tortured by experts. When we are hanged, experts will hang us...When the world is destroyed, it will be destroyed not by its madmen but by the sanity of its experts and the superior ignorance of its bureaucrats.
- John Le Carre, Russia House

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So let's dismiss non-fiction as something any child of eleven can do and let's dismiss most forms of fiction as writing that requires no discipline whatever. The novel, in particular, is by definition a form that defies definition. Moreover, most novelists at work today are writing as poorly as the people writing non-fiction. What it's come down to, if a person can successfully string together nine or ten plain words to fashion a simple sentence, then he or she may be dubbed 'author' and be permitted to go on author's tours and speak at Book and Author Luncheons and generally behave like a writer...

An author is anyone who's written a book. The book can be a diet book, or a cookbook, or a book about the sex life of the tsetse fly in Rwanda, or it can be a trashy woman-in-jeopardy mystery, or a high tech novel about a missing Russian diplomat, or any one of a thousand poorly written screeds or palimpsests. An author doesn't need to study literature, he doesn't need to take any courses in the craft of writing. All he needs to do is impulsively and ambitiously sit himself down in front of a computer and write as badly as he knows how to write. In this great land of the literary jackpot, if he writes badly enough, he may hit it really big, therfore qualifying AS a boba fide author entitled to go on book tours and television talk shows...
- Ed McBain, Romance

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President McKinley Explains That the United States Should Keep the Philippines by Direct Order of God...

I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me this way—I don't know how it was but it came; first, that we could not give [the Philippines] back to Spain—that would be cowardly and dishonorable; second, that we could not turn them over to France or Germany—our commercial rivals in the Orient—that would be bad business and discreditable; third, we could not leave them to themselves—they were unfit for government, and they would soon have anarchy and misrule of there worse than Spain's was; and fourth, that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed, and went to sleep and slept soundly.
Eduardo GaleanoMemory of Fire

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Life is like licking honey from a thorn. [Old Hungarian saying]
Alan FurstKingdom of Shadows

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It's a proven fact that those who have epilepsy also have a higher incidence of depression, but I wonder if the epilepsy causes the depression, or if the depression is because of the epilepsy, which is, when all is said and done, an illness so existential, so oddly spiritual, you are stuck out in the stratosphere with Sartre and Kierkegaard, with dead dogs and owls.
- Lauren Slater, Lying

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“You asking me,” Catlett said, “do I know how to write down words on a piece of paper? That’s what you do, man, you put down one word after the other as it comes in your head. It isn’t like having to learn how to play the piano, like you have to learn notes. You already learned in school how to write didn’t you. I hope so. You have the idea and you put down what you want to say. Then you get somebody to add commas and shit where they belong, if you aren’t positive yourself. Maybe fix up the spelling where you have some tricky words. There people that do that for you. Some, I’ve even seen scripts where I know words weren’t spelled right and there were hardly any commas in it. So I don’t think it’s too important. You come to the last page and you write in 'Fade out' and that’s the end and you’re done.”
- Elmore Leonard, Get Shorty

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Furthermore, those late nights I have driven back to the pooldar apartments in Berkeley after working, I have seen in the windows the pale blue glow of at least one television in every home. And I am told that many family meals are eaten in front of this screen as well. And perhaps this explains the face of Americans, the eyes that never appear satisfied, at peace with their work, or the day God has given them; these people have the eyes of very small children who are forever looking for their next source of distraction, entertainment, or a sweet taste in the mouth. And it is no longer to me a surprise that it is the recent immigrants who excel in this land, the Orientals, the Greeks, and yes, the Persians. We know rich opportunity when we see it.
Andre Dubus IIIHouse of Sand and Fog

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Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zig-zag towards a more decent society.

We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.
Howard ZinnYou Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train

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To contemplate truth, without sorrow, is the greatest gift.
- The Kaballah

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He'd once told me that the art of getting ahead in New York was based on learning how to express dissatisfaction in an interesting way. The air was full of rage and complaint. People had no tolerance for your particular hardship unless you knew how to entertain them with it.
- Don DeLillo, White Noise

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I see myself as half narrative...contentless form...I must compose myself.
- John Barthes, Lost in the Funhouse

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The only thing that is immune to change is our desire for meaning.
- Douglas Coupland, Microserfs

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Frankly, I have no mind for rational solutions to these immense problems. Nothing I ever hear from Washington, D.C., has any relationship with the reality I know down here. I’m seeing delirium, hunger, acute suffering, which are not solved, assuaged or aired by the stentorian fart breath of the House and Senate.

I’m also wondering if it behooves a writer to try to be right. Yeats warned about cutting off a horse's legs to get it into a box. Simon Ortiz, the grand Acomo Pueblo poet, said that there are no truths, only stories…

A historian might very well consider the validity of the Gadsen Purchase, wherein we bought my locale for fifty-two cents an acre from a group of Mexicans that had no right to sell it. The United Nations would question our right to take all of the Colorado River’s water, leaving the estuarine area in Mexico as dry as the bones their people leave up here in the desert. A true disciple of Jesus would say that we have to do something about these desperate people, though this is the smallest voice of all. Most politicians have the same moral imperative as a cancer cell: continue what you’re up to at all costs. Meanwhile the xenophobes, better known as the xenoids, merely jump up an down on the border screeching, surely a full testament to our primate roots. Everyone not already here must be kept out, and anyone here illegally, if not immediately expunged, should be made as uncomfortable as possible.

So Ana Claudia crossed with her brother and child into Indian country, walking up a dry wash for forty miles, but when she reached the highway she simply dropped dead near the place where recently a nineteen year old girl also died from thirst with a baby at her breast. The baby was covered with sun blisters, but lived. So did Ana Claudia’s. The particular cruelty of a dry wash is that everywhere there is evidence of water that once passed this way, with the banks verdant with flora. We don’t know how long it took Ana Claudia to walk her only forty miles in America, but we know what her last hours were like. Her body progressed from losing one quart of water to seven quarts: lethargy, increasing pulse, nausea, dizziness, blue shading of vision, delirium, swelling of the tongue, deafness, dimness of vision, shriveling of the skin, and then death, the fallen body wrenched into a question mark. How could we not wish that politicians on both sides of the border who let her die this way would die in the same manner? But then such people have never missed a single lunch. Ana Claudia Villa Herrera. What a lovely name.
- Jim Harrison, "Life on the Border" (Men’s Journal, July 2001)

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If I could believe that going to a barricade would affect man's fate in the slightest I would go to that barricade, and quite often I wish that I could, but it would be less than honest to say that I expect to happen upon such a happy ending.
Joan Didion, "On the Morning After the Sixties" (from The White Album)

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You can never change the Past, but you can see it.
You can never see the Future, but you can change it.
- Charles Laquidara

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A new question has arisen in man's mind, the question, namely, whether 'life is worth living,' and correspondingly, the feeling that one's life 'is a failure,' or is 'a success.' This idea is based on the concept of life as an enterprise which should show a profit. The failure is like the bankruptcy of a business in which the losses are greater than the gains. This concept is nonsensical. We may be happy or unhappy, achieve some aims, and not achieve others; yet there is no sensible balance which could show whether life is worth while living. Maybe from the standpoint of a balance life is never worth while living. It ends necessarily with death; many of our hopes are disappointed; it involves suffering and effort; from the standpoint of this balance, it would seem to make more sense not to have been born at all, or to die in infancy. On the other hand, who will tell whether on happy moment of love, or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies? Life is a unique gift and challenge, not to be measured in terms of anything else, and no sensible answer can be given to the question whether it is 'worth while' living, because the question does not make any sense.
- Erich Fromm, The Sane Society

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The "working poor" as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for: they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.
Barbara EhrenreichNickel and Dimed

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Sometime in the Eighties, Americans had a new set of "traditional values" installed. It was part of what may someday be known as the "Reagan renovation," that finely balanced mix of cosmetic refinement and moral coarseness which brought $200,000 china to the White House dinner table and mayhem to the beleaguered peasantry of Central America. All of the new traditions had venerable sources. In economics, we borrowed from the Bourbons: in foreign policy, we drew on themes fashioned by the nomad warriors of the Eurasian steppes. In spiritual matters, we emulated the braying intolerance of our archenemies and esteemed customers, the Shi’ite fundamentalists.

A case could be made, of course, for the genuine American provenance of all these new "traditions." We’ve had our own robber barons, military adventurers, and certainly more than our share of enterprising evangelists promoting ignorance and parochialism as a state of grace. From the vantage point of the continent’s original inhabitants, or, for example, the captive African laborers who made America a great agricultural power, our "traditional values" have always been bigotry, greed and belligerence, buttressed by wanton appeals to a God of love.
Barbara EhrenreichThe Worst Years of Our Lives

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Nothing is more real than nothing.
- Samuel Beckett

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Patty Keene was stupid on purpose, which was the case with most women in Midland City. The women all had big minds because they were big animals, but they did not use them much for this reason: unusual ideas could make enemies, and the women, if they were going to achieve any sort of comfort and safety, needed all the friends they could get.

So, in the interests of survival, they trained themselves to be agreeing machines instead of thinking machines. All their minds had to do was to discover what other people were thinking, and then they thought that, too.
- Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

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"The sky is blue because you wanta know why the sky is blue."
- Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

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The shack had been built by an old man to die in, years ago. It was well built.
- Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

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His own lonely impunity is rank: it smells to heaven. If it is allowed to persist then we shall shamefully vindicate the ancient philosopher Anacharsis, who maintained that laws were like cobwebs: strong enough to detain only the weak, and too weak to hold the strong. In the name of innumerable victims, known and unknown, it is time for justice to take a hand.
- Christopher HitchensThe Trial of Henry Kissinger

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Four more years of an unwinnable war and undeclared and murderous war, which was to spread before it burned out, and was to end on the same terms and conditions as had been on the table in the fall of 1968. That was what it took to promote Henry Kissinger. To promote him from being a mediocre and opportunist academic to becoming an international potentate. The signature qualities were there from the inaugural moment: the sycophancy and the duplicity: the power worship and the absence of scruple: the empty trading of old non-friends for new non-friends. And the distinctive effects also were present: the uncounted and expendable corpses: the official and unofficial lying about the cost: the heavy and pompous pseudo-indignation when unwelcome questions were asked. K's global career started as it meant to go on. It debauched the American republic and American democracy, and it levied a hideous toll of casualties on weaker and more vulnerable societies.
- Christopher HitchensThe Trial of Henry Kissinger

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In a dark night of the soul, it's always 3 o'clock in the morning, over and over again.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack Up

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